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Rila Monastery, Serbian Orthodox in Bulgaria

Rila, Bulgaria

Set in the mountains, the Bulgarian’s beloved Rila Monastery attracts tourists for its art, and pilgrims for its spirituality. Founded by St. John of Rila in 927, the monastery helped safeguard Bulgarian faith during later Ottoman rule.

Complete Video Script

We're driving deep into the mountains south of Sofia. The peaceful beech forests seem a world away from the big city. Finally, we reach Rila Monastery: fortress on the outside…spiritual sanctuary inside. Within its walls, you feel something special — both sacred and timeless.

Founded in the 10th century, Rila Monastery was a stronghold for Bulgarian faith, language, and culture during nearly 500 years of Ottoman rule. And today, it remains the country's revered national treasure.

This beautiful place has been a holy site and refuge for over a thousand years. The monastery is still home to a handful of monks, who host both tourists and pilgrims.

This bell tower, the oldest surviving part of the monastery, served as a final refuge in case of attack.

The iconic church is surrounded by a graceful arcade. Under the arcade, vivid 19th-century frescoes depict Bible stories, peopled by angels and devils, saints and sinners. Here's St. John of Rila, who, seeking a hermetic way of life, founded this remote monastery in the year 927. These scenes show the 40 days of trials your soul goes through after death. A guardian angel accompanies the soul — represented by a small child — through a gauntlet of temptations.

Rick: This place feels so venerable. Did you come here as a child?
Stefan: Yes — actually many times, with my family. It was a favorite destination.
Rick: So, why is Rila so important to the Bulgarian people?
Stefan: Because actually our most favorite, most beloved saint, Saint Ivan Rilski, was buried nearby.
Rick: Ah, OK. So this is like the…you could say, the “Jerusalem” for the Bulgarian people.
Stefan: Absolutely! The heart of every single Bulgarian belongs to this place, belongs to this monastery here.
Rick: You come here and celebrate Bulgaria.
Stefan: We celebrate Bulgaria, and the Bulgarian experience.